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Full text of "Alexander von Humboldt"

238t                                 LIFE  OF
But in the northern regions, as soon as the naked
rock comes into contact with the air, a tissue of velvety
fibres is formed, upon it, like a coloured spot, darken-
ing gradually, and affording- the foundation for a new-
stratum of the organic tissue. Where high forest
trees now stand, frail lichens once covered the earth-
less rock. The history of vegetable life, and its gra-
dual distribution over the bare earth, has its epochs,
like the history of the subsequent human race. But
although the plenitude of life is everywhere developed,
although organization is ceaselessly working to reunite
the elements, released by death, into new forms, this
plenitude of life and its renewal differs according to
the difference of the zones.
Nature is suddenly torpified in the frigid xono, for
fluidity is the condition of life. Animals and plants
are here buried for months in their winter torpor
(except mosses and other cryptogainia). On a large
surface of the earth only such organic creations have
developed themselves as are capable of withstanding
a, considerable absence of caloric, or a long inter-
ruption of the organic functions. But the nearer wo
approach the tropics, the more the variety and grace
of form and colouring, the freshness and force of
organic life increase. This may be doubted by those
"who have never left our quarter of the world, or have
neglected the study of geography. If we descend
from our thick oak forest over the Alps or Pyrenees,
to Italy or Spain, or cast a glance at the African
coasts of the Mediterranean, we should easily form
the erroneous opinion that absence of trees is a
characteristic of hot climates. But then we forget
that southern Europe bore a different aspect when.
the Pelasgian or Carthaginian colonies first settled
there; we forget that the early civilization of the
human race dislodges the forests, and that the revolu-
tionary spirit of nations gradually robs the earth of
those ornaments which gladden us in the north, and
which, more than any history, proves the infancy of
our civilization.